Whenever federal agencies put a community and its nuclear power plant through a simulated emergency to test how well they respond, they like to shake things up and throw a monkey wrench in the mix.

On Tuesday, for instance, as the Surry Power Station underwent a fake emergency involving a fake radiation plume, a fake traffic accident was tossed in that tied up an evacuation route in Isle of Wight County.

But then real life intruded. That same morning, an actual police emergency erupted in York County where a gunman shot up an auto paint store, wounding a man, then barricaded himself inside for several hours.

So, while some members of the York County Emergency Response Team soldiered on with the simulated nuclear reactor accident, others were lobbing real rounds of gas and an explosive into the store, then immobilizing and arresting a suspect.

“The Emergency Operations Center was dealing with that and, at the same time, remained focused on the exercise,” said Thomas Scardino, Technical Hazards Branch chief of Federal Emergency Management Agency Region III, based in Philadelphia. “So that was real kudos to those agencies for handling real-life emergencies.”

Isle of Wight authorities likewise handled their fake blocked evacuation route with aplomb, he said.

Scardino was at the Newport News Marriott at City Center Friday morning to help deliver a preliminary assessment to the public of Tuesday’s nuclear reactor exercise. FEMA is still compiling data from more than 70 evaluators stationed at nearly 50 locations in Hampton Roads, he said, but overall agency officials are satisfied with what they witnessed.

“We saw great coordination and combined effort to protect the public, had something actually happened at the plant,” Scardino said. Continue reading.